Two at the Top

October 26, 2017

This article first appered in the October/November 2017 issue of Athletic Management.

At Colorado Mesa University, they like to do things differently. From eliminating deans to pushing for unique educational partnerships with other institutions, they pride themselves on thinking outside the box.

So after former Athletic Director Tom Spicer left the school in early May, CMU President Tim Foster took an unusual approach to selecting a successor. He tapped Kris Mort and Bryan Rooks as Co-Athletic Directors for the NCAA Division II school. They had both been serving as Associate Athletic Directors at Colorado Mesa before their promotions.

“We are very fortunate to have the talent and abilities these people bring to the table,” Foster said in a news release announcing the move. “That, in part, gives us the opportunity to try things a little differently than the rest of the pack.”

Responsibilities have been divided to reflect the two directors’ abilities and experiences. Rooks oversees much of the internal operations, including compliance, eligibility, and facilities. Mort is taking care of finances and external operations. They have carved up oversight of the school’s 27 teams with Austin Kaiser, Assistant Director of Athletics for Student Success and Compliance.

“We had a clear division of duties as associate directors, and we felt it was natural to retain the status quo, and then divide additional responsibilities,” Mort says.

As unique as the set up is, Mort and Rooks had some familiarity with it, essentially serving as co-interim athletic directors for much of the 2012-13 school year before Spicer was hired. However, Foster played a large role at that time, especially when it came to fundraising and meeting with corporate sponsors. Now, Mort and Rooks are on their own.

“In some ways, we’ve been down this road before,” Mort says. “But it’s also different, and we’re excited to be leading this program together. We’re more than comfortable with each other.”

The two say the arrangement has several benefits. First is continuity in leadership since both Mort and Rooks have been in the department 20-plus years. And they each competed as student-athletes for what was then known as Mesa State College.

Mort returned to be Head Softball Coach for 19 years before moving to a full-time administrative position in 2012 and has long been the Senior Woman Administrator. Rooks, a native of CMU’s home in Grand Junction, Colo., was a football player and Assistant Football Coach before moving into administration. In addition to being familiar to staff and student-athletes, they also know many of the boosters and corporate sponsors in town, which will help avoid disruption in those areas.

Rooks also likes the variety of views the set-up brings. “It’s easy to start thinking the same way all the time,” he says. “Having two opinions present makes us stronger and pushes us to think creatively.”

Mort points out that the co-athletic director roles help with work-life balance. “It’s a big benefit to not have to wear the athletic director’s hat on your own,” she says. “Hosting events here on campus almost every weekend, with two of us, neither one of us has to go to every game.”

They also acknowledge the challenges. One is that people could try to play the two against each other. “If it involves spending money, Brian tells them to ask me,” Mort says. “If they’re asking compliance or eligibility questions, I send them to Brian. And the first step for most other things is the direct supervisor for that sport.”

There is also the balance of keeping each other abreast of day-to-day work without constantly meeting. “It is important that we don’t kill each other’s time with updates on this meeting or that phone call,” Rooks says. “We’re looking at using a real-time note-taking platform that will be useful in that regard.”

Foster has been in their corner throughout the transition, especially when it comes to the big picture. In fact, he sidelined an initial idea that he felt was not in Mort’s best interest.

“When we first discussed how to split duties, I thought it would be easiest to do so by gender, so people would know who to contact,” she says. “I don’t want to put words in President Foster’s mouth, but he basically said that would pigeon hole me into women’s sports and women’s issues, and that I was capable of more than that.”

“By not splitting sports up between men’s and women’s teams, everyone is involved in decisions for both genders,” Rooks says. “It ensures we do not isolate anyone to one gender or the other.”

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